Poetic Pontifications Three streams of thoughts for poets
By James Strecker
Editorial intrusion can make you want to kick air but it does serve a purpose.
This month’s article wants to go in several directions, so who am I to stop it?
1. My Tai Chi teacher, Judy Remedios of Bronte, Ontario, also teaches Awareness Through Movement, a method created by physicist Moshe Feldenkrais to improve one’s bodily motor functioning and sensory awareness.
At one point in a class last week, Judy told me to stop thinking about the end result of my movements and to be aware, instead, of what I was doing at each point along the way. Was I breathing? Was I doing a habitual movement? Was I holding myself in a position that served no purpose whatsoever?
Of course, her advice to be attuned to my process of being physically alive also rang true for the poet in me. Second by second, we must pay attention to what we are doing as we write, lest we allow restrictions and habitual maneuverings in our psyches to limit the potential of what our poems can and want to be.
If, however, each word or phrase receives our genuine attention as we write it, and we don’t write solely focussed on the final form and intended impact of the poem at hand, then what we write will breathe naturally and often surprise us. We are creatures of habit, in our bodies and in our poems, but as Ireland’s brilliant gift to futility, Samuel Beckett, once noted, habit is the great deadener.
2. Numbing habit in music is most often expressed in cliché, the reduction of what could be fresh and genuinely alive to commonplace banalities that require no effort in either creation or listening. Cliched music is meant to manipulate its musically stupid devotees into believing their experience is authentic when, in fact, they are slaves of blandness born of repetition.
A CD like Before The Revolution: A 1909 Recording Expedition In The Caucasus And Central Asia By The Gramophone Company, released recently by Topic Records, proves therefore to be an aesthetic challenge anyone should take.
Its rhythmic shifts, harmonic audacity, and individualistic tonality, take the habitue of TV music networks into a strange land where spontaneity and unaffected feeling are the norm. We must be more of what we can be to hear this music, not less as cliched music would have it.
The point here for the writer is that cliché of any kind deadens one’s creative sensibility to some degree when it infiltrates and infects one’s muse. Yes, we all blot out in what are called "guilty pleasures," stuff we know to be shallow or junky, but too many, of course, take these for their daily diet, their aesthetic crème de la crème. With them, the cliché’s the limit. That’s not creativity; that’s not living.
3. In editing a book of poems not long ago, I was forced to rearrange a few lines so they might fit onto the page. The result? A pissed-off poet who sent me not thanks for publishing him but, instead, several threatening letters. Several times, I’ve stopped mentoring aspiring poets because my editing proved apparently too insensitive and too many fights ensued.
Editing is a touchy issue to a writer who spends hours or days finding and placing specific words only to have them changed or rearranged for publication. As a poet and as a journalist, I’ve experienced a number of editorial intrusions, sometimes with disgust and sometimes with gratitude.
Strangely, I’ve found myself edited less in prominent publications than in the relatively unknown periodicals.
In any case, over many years I’ve had one or two flabby articles honed into solid pieces by editors, I’ve had several articles and poems edited into making no sense whatsoever, and on occasion I’ve been embarrassed by the lack of sophistication in the one with a blue pencil. No doubt, your own tales of unwanted editing would make spines chill.
James Strecker is the author or editor of two dozen books and CD-ROMs. His collaborators as a poet include artist Harold Town, in the books Black on jazz and Pas De Vingt on ballet, photographer Bill Smith, and composers Barend Schipper and Wolfgang Bottenberg. He is also a journalist and a human development consultant. He is currently writing a book on creativity and is seeking a publisher for his book for writers. http://www.jamesstrecker.com/js.htm email: firstname.lastname@example.org